Sunday, November 23, 2014

Join Me at Soul Sparks!

Hello. Thanks so much for following my journey. This blog has a new home at Hope to see you there!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Did I Manifest My Cancer

I'm not gonna lie. I've dabbled in my fair share of "woo woo" -- however we wish to define it. From mind-body medicine to mantra-based meditation. Acupuncture, feng shui, psychic readings, past life regression, rebirth experiences, tarot card readings -- you name it, I've probably done it. I trust that all of these experiences are tools we have in our arsenal to embracing a deeper conscious awareness in our everyday life.

As I reflect back on the early days of my spiritual intrigue which kicked off right around my teenage years, I see that I was in a desperate state to logically understand things outside of my control.

While I informally explored through various books and an occasional astrological chart reading, my really first deep dive into came during my post collegiate years with the discovery of Louise Hay and her book YOU CAN HEAL YOUR LIFE. In it she provides a comprehensive list of ailments, the emotional cause and then a healing mantra. That book became my bible in my early 20s. Whenever someone had an ailment, I was the first to point out their emotional blockages. In time I learned, that most people want to stay oblivious to this connection so I backed off. Although there were a select few that became as obsessed as I, and before the Internet had completely taken hold, I was the "woo woo" go-to gal. From headaches to hemorroids, I would get calls from friends and family members interested not so much for the emotional cause, but more for the healing mantra. It was manic, but meaningful, like so many things in my life at the time. But it also made so much sense and served as a catalyst to my path towards further defining the connection between mind-body-spirit and the role our ego (if we are aware of it) can be our greatest teacher to grow, evolve, and connect.
So almost a decade and half later with much more conscious awareness and tools under my belt, I thought I had things figured out. And then I learned I had breast cancer.

Upon the moment of my diagnosis, I had an array of conflicting thoughts. The first of course was that of shock and momentary devastation. I was the healthiest person I knew. And then all the years of being the "woo woo" go-to gal came rushing in. Did I manifest cancer? Now, to think I actually manifested cancer is pretty narcissistic and the ego trying to take credit, but I was confused. Had my own awareness betrayed me?
The first thing I did when I came home from that first appointment was to look up my trusty Louise Hay book, which I have referred to over the years. I had to get creative to diagnose, but I merged the terms cancer, breast and left side together and got the following.

Breast Emotional Issue: A refusal to nourish the self. Putting everyone else first. Overmothering. Over protection. Overbearing attitudes
Breast Healing Mantra: I am important, I count. I now care for and nourish myself with love and with joy. I allow others the freedom to be who they are. We are all safe and free.

Crap -- that seemed spot on and totally resonated for me. How had all my work and use of these "woo woo" tools not captured this sooner? Couldn't one of those psychics maybe given me a heads up? In a helpless moment of embracing that whatever my belief around manifesting my disease, the message seemed clear and it was time to tap into my toolkit of healing, which I unknowingly had built up through the years.
I took my cancer journey as an opportunity to put into practice all of the mind, body, and spirit tools I learned over the years. The difference is that I realized all my exploration over the years was actually coming from a place of fear and angst to avoid the exact thing that was happening to me. But now, I had the opportunity to practice from a place of heart-felt awareness and exploration, understanding of the modality, and appreciation of the depth of healing I knew I could receive. And so I did.

I practiced visualization before every surgery and treatment. I meditated every day as a home base of stillness amongst the uncertainty. I practiced Pilates to keep my body moving and engaged. I did acupuncture to help alleviate side effects of the chemo. I learned energy healing techniques to help process my emotions and physical sensations. I explored relationships that weren't necessarily healthy for me and learned to put boundaries in place. And I opened up in a way I was never able before to receive the love, support, and nurturing from my loved ones and friends.

Yet despite all of this integration, I can't deny looking for a little "woo woo" perspective every now and then as a catalyst to continue to be open and deepen my awareness. So about a month ago I had a reading with an Intuitive. Without me saying a word, she immediately picked up on my cancer journey and she asked if I knew what it represented. With a glowing pride I responded that I actually did -- and cited my healing lesson/mantra. She stopped me mid-sentence and told me I hadn't learned what I needed to learn.
My heart stopped -- excuse me? In my head I was panicked. What the f!*k? Then what has this past year been about? I paused. I surrendered. I nourished. I suffered. I put boundaries in place. I trusted people I loved that that they would be taken care of. I discovered a love for myself and others. What do you mean I hadn't learned my lesson?

At that point I didn't really hear the rest of the reading. Like the good ole' pre-cancer me, I shut down emotionally. I left that reading devastated and fearful. I felt like all the work of the past year was for nothing, and worse, that the cancer was just ruminating and waiting to come back.
Luckily the session was recorded, so once my irrational albeit validated anger and emotion subsided and I was in more grounded place, I listened with new perspective.

The truth is, I needed to hear exactly how I perceived the information, because if I'm being honest, she identified my biggest fear. What if I didn't get the deeper significance of this surreal journey?
What I realized is that the journey is never really over. But what is important to acknowledge and actually was articulated in this reading (but I couldn't hear at the time) is that this was a monumental year of transformation. I have shifted my consciousness from one of DOING and searching from a place of fear and angst to one of BEING and arriving at a place of stillness, connection, and listening to that deepest part of my soul. There will always be fear of the unknown, but I am more grounded than I was before and am armed with a deeper conscious awareness and tools that is shifting how I live my life with more love, peace, equanimity, connection and joy.

I feel it is important to note that this is my experience. I never take anything whether it be something I read, an energy healing, or a psychic reading as absolute truth but merely a perspective of my energy at that point and time. I still have free will and with a conscious awareness, the ability to shift my energy. I also embrace that because I had this awareness going into my diagnosis, it was my responsibility to at least be open to the lessons that were waiting to be revealed. I acknowledge that not everyone shares this belief system and that everyone's journey is personal and unique to them.

So did I manifest my cancer? I don't know. And it doesn't really matter. What matters is I treat my body with the respect it deserves. That I nourish my spirit with relationships and activities that are fulfilling and meaningful. That I express myself with truth and authenticity. That I keep my heart open. That I stay connected and present to life. And I continue to stay open to exploring new ways of deepening this conscious awareness.

On that note, I'm off to complete a meditation certification training in Sedona, Arizona, which I have been pursuing over the last four months. And for exploration sake, I've scheduled time with a shamanic healer at an actual energy vortex for what I trust will be a one-of-a-kind "woo woo" experience. Let the journey continue.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I Bought A Peacock

For the last several months, I have been in serious purging mode. ​I would imagine this is a common step for people once they emerge from the cancer cocoon and step into this thing called "the new normal."​ As I begin to gain more energy and vitality everyday, I ​better appreciate the the burden and hardship that my body went through as it struggled to heal​ during my year with cancer​. I also realize the mental and energetic toll that my psyche went through. On the positive, I felt real transformation and energetic release. On the negative, I felt like all that energy that had been released was now stuck​ in my home​.
So I ​tapped into my ​​toolbox ​of transformation, ​and I took action to transform my once cancer centric home into a new space that ​would set the stage for my best chance of stepping into my new normal​. ​
I tapped into my good ol' days of being a feng shui consultant and got to work. It took several weeks of purging, reorganizing​, ​a little bit of redecorating,​ and some serious sage burning,​ but I infused my home inside and out with more vitality​ (literally bringing in more fire element of reds and oranges)​, ​intention, clarity and freeing up more space -- lots and lots of space.
​T​he thing with empty space​ is, ​it can be uncomfortable. And I found myself wanting to fill it ASAP​ perusing online shopping websites looking for the perfect accessories to "fill it up​." But if there was anything I learned through my year with cancer is that if we can sit in the discomfort ​and invite a little surrender, ​the right thing​, person or circumstance​ will show up exactly when I need it. ​
​Sure enough, a few weeks later I was running some errands and stumbled upon this completely random store. It was next door to the pet store where I go all the time for my dog, but I never saw it. I was walking by and I noticed this metal peacock. It was big, heavy, bright and clunky. Not at all my aesthetic, but it literally stopped me in my tracks and I thought to myself, I have to have that. I tried to disregard because it really was pretty tacky. So I proceeded with my errands, but I couldn't get that peacock out of my head. Sure enough -- I went back to the store and I bought the peacock having no real idea where it would go. Technically it was described as yard art (I don't even really have a yard), but I recognized this deeper feeling of validation in my soul and have learned to listen to and takes its lead.
I've always been one for looking at the deeper meaning ​of things and objects​ so of course, the first thing I did before I bought the peacock was google its meaning. Evidently, ​in many ancient traditions, the peacock was thought to have the power of resurrection, symbolizing renewal and immortality​. It also is described as being a symbol of integrity and beauty if we endeavor to express and show our true colors. Hmm -- that seemed pretty spot on. It really was the ideal embodiment of where I was emotionally, physically and spiritually. So now, every time I pull up to my home or my dog pees on that peacock, I am reminded to let my true colors shine through and be kind to myself as I continue to reinvent my reality.
Needless to say, like most symbols, once we become aware, I began to see the peacock in everything. It was in a decorative pillow I bought months earlier. It was in clothing that I had never even noticed. ​It was featured in random art I began to take notice of. There were TV specials -- all about peacocks!
Instead of seeing these things as random, I'm choosing to embrace that these little signs, however silly or insignificant they may seem, as little "atta girls" from the universe reminding me that I'm never really alone. And that circumstances, people and random objects show up to remind us what we need to know in the moment.
And so as I continue to embrace that it's not about figuring out or doing anything specific to step into my new normal, but rather it is about embracing that I'm actually in it, I'm realizing I don't need the cancer or the treatments or the surgeries to take pause, appreciate, nurture and love. It's not about doing but rather being these things -- through and through. After all, we are human beings not human doings. Sometimes it just takes something like a tacky peacock to serve as the reminder.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Embracing Awkward

I recently attended a large fundraising event and ran into several people who I had not seen in years. One woman came up to me and complimented me on how good I look -- "such a fun short haircut" she said. I proceeded to my standard response -- "I'm just glad it came back" (insert awkward giggle). She looked puzzled and then asked what was new. I of course went on this long perhaps dramatic explanation of how after this past year with the breast cancer and all, I'm really trying to take pause, and not sure exactly what lies ahead for me. She looked at me with a blank stare. She had no idea I had been dealing with cancer. She was just engaging in casual chit chat, but I of course was talking from my cancer bubble -- awkward! We then proceeded to talk about Pilates.
I remember at the start of my journey, several people explaining to me how I would start to look at life as "before cancer" and "after cancer." While I empathized with the fact that is how they viewed their experience, surely it wasn't that black and white. After all, I vowed from the beginning that cancer wouldn't define me. I wish it wasn't the case and it simply just didn't matter any more, but the thing is, it does. As much as I like to believe I am out of my cancer bubble, I'm very aware that it is still very much a part of my daily life.
I still wake up every Thursday morning thinking it is chemo day. I still have the gnawing fear at every meal that a wave of nausea will occur. I still rely on my pill box every morning to keep track of my medications. I still step out of the shower every day and see the scars on my body. I still have the overwhelming moments of emotion that wash over me at the most unpredictable times. I still feel annoyed that despite not having any breast tissue, I have to perform breast exams -- always with a knot in my stomach. And I find myself feeling conflicted of not wanting to think about the cancer at all and then suddenly feeling terrified I'll forget.
Then there are the doctors and other survivors who are quick to remind that it is never really over. Given there are no recommended body scans or blood tests, the only indicator of the cancer coming back is symptom-based. So an ache is no longer just an ache.
Despite the paranoia, emotion and disorientation, all the good stuff and lessons learned are slowly but surely inching their way into my consciousness. I feel more lighthearted. I feel more present and loving. I enjoy my time with others and myself on an entirely new level. But I am simply embracing that I will be in a constant socially awkward state as I navigate how to set new boundaries while being open to new possibilities, staying responsible to my current obligations, and trying to stay present, loving, and honest with myself amongst it all. But most importantly, it is the awkward moments that remind me to lighten up! And when all else fails, at least there is Pilates to chit chat about.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Got Cancer: Now What?

There is really nothing that can prepare you for a cancer diagnosis. It is a shocking and momentary devastation that is overwhelming on so many different levels -- physically, emotionally and spiritually. But perhaps the greatest challenge is identifying the immediate logistical next steps of what a diagnosis means while you are trying to process these levels.
Below is a "best of the best" advice that I both learned through experience and received from others during those first few weeks of my cancer diagnosis that I found to be helpful to my personal journey (realizing that for everyone it is different).
1. It's okay to freak out. 
Yes, this is a big deal. You could die.
2. You probably won't die.
Or at least you don't have enough information to know yet. Many cancers are very treatable, so honor the initial freak out and start arming yourself with some information to empower your journey.
3. Find a team you trust.
The number one recommendation that I wish someone told me was to meet with an oncologist first (vs. a surgeon). An oncologist will talk you through the type of cancer you have and provide a recommendation of a treatment plan and ideally a recommendation of a surgeon he or she trusts. An oncologist is likely to provide more of a holistic and emotional understanding of the disease, whereas some surgeons (although not all) tend to be more straightforward and direct in their approach.
For my family and me, this direct approach from a surgeon as our first consultation was too shocking and harsh. In hindsight, perhaps it was simply because it was our first meeting and denial was met head on with reality. I ultimately ended up at MD Anderson with the same treatment plan as that the first surgeon we met with prescribed, but the approach was so much different.
NOTE: If you choose to go an alternative path, I still recommend hearing both sides of Western and Eastern approaches. I always thought that if I were to ever get cancer, I would go the alternative route. But as soon as I heard how treatable my breast cancer was and the science to support it, I chose that path but had a very comprehensive complementary approach alongside (meditation, acupuncture, diet, exercise, etc.).
4. Get a second opinion.
This was the last thing I wanted to do, but my family really encouraged. I just wanted to find my medical team and get the tumor out of me. But it really is a good idea to get a second opinion -- ideally from a center of excellence. It's likely they will validate the initial recommendation you heard, but they could have an approach, insight or other information that could be helpful. Ultimately it is your decision.
5. This really is the worst time.
Or at least the most overwhelming time, with all the appointments; understanding insurance coverage; sharing with friends and family, etc. Everyone told me that I would feel so much better when I had a plan in place. And they were right. What I wasn't prepared for is that the plan could take up to three to six weeks to have in place. Assuming you don't need immediate surgery or treatment, have patience and know that you will feel some peace soon.
6. Suck it up and let people help.
Whether you choose to be very public in sharing your diagnosis as I was, or private, people are going to want to help and you are going to need it. For most of my life, I was convinced I could do everything on my own, so I saw this as my opportunity to let go and embrace the support surrounding me. As family and friends can attest, I got very good at asking for help and articulating my needs very quickly. (We are now working on boundaries.) Be specific and think about things that would be helpful (grocery runs, play dates for your kids, flowers, meal drop off, etc).
7. Stay off the Internet.
One of the best pieces of advice I got was to have a friend and family member do the Internet research for you. At the end of the day, you should be relying on your medical team to advise you, but it is too tempting to not get online. Having said that, there is some really f*#@ed up stuff out there, and this is the last thing you need to be dealing with. My mom became my Internet-research guru. Granted at times I had to advise her to step away from the computer, but she really became the go to source for distilling the information that would be helpful for me.
8. Be prepared. 
I come from a very strategically minded family, so we were beyond prepared with key questions for each appointment. Contrary to the above, this is the time to get on the Internet with searches that are very specific (questions to ask my oncologist about breast-cancer treatment). There are some great resources out there.
9. Celebrate, or at least go to a silly movie.
For me, it was important that I celebrate the milestones. Before my bilateral mastectomy, my friends threw me a "bye-bye boobs brunch." We had a "chemo kick-off" party the evening before chemo. While they were all important milestones, they were more distractions that plucked me out of the intensity of the time with some good food, friends, family and laughter.
10. It's gonna be a rough year. But then it is over. 
This was perhaps the most important piece of insight I gained from several friends, that I am only now just coming to appreciate. I remember when my doctor. told me it would be a year of surgeries and treatment, I was devastated and could not even imagine a year of feeling this uncertain, sick and scared. And they were right, it was a really shitty year (the better I start to feel, the more I realize how difficult it was).
But now, as I am re-emerging on the other side with newness all around me (new hair, new perspective, new possibilities), I can see it as the most transformative and healing year of my life. I also realize how fortunate I an that it was just a year, which is not always the case. Sure I will always be living in a post-cancer world, but for the most part, this phase is over.
And like these tips of diagnosis, I am realizing that the lessons learned over this past year are not so much about cancer, as they are about life.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Cancer Love Story

I have a confession. I'm so grateful I got cancer. There, I said it.  It's confusing to confess something so morbid, but as my year cancerversary (February 14) makes its mark, I realize that despite the pain, poking, prodding, and discomfort - this year was perhaps one of the most important of my life. Difficult - yes. Meaningful - absolutely. 

Upon the moment of my diagnosis I knew this would be a year of transformation and transmutation. I was not naive to the barbaric nature of what I knew of the disease and possible treatments, but chose to see it as a love journey utilizing all of the tools in my personal growth + wellness toolkit I had acquired over the years.  I encouraged friends and family to stay away from terms of battle, fight or poison and chose to see all the procedures and treatments as light and love. Naive - perhaps, but with this intention came the gift of being present and the connection to the deepest part of myself. That place where fear, judgement, anxiety, and uncertainty transmute to love, acceptance, compassion and faith.  I witnessed as my "ego," which appeared to control so much throughout my life was being pushed aside as my spirit, lead by surrender began to take hold. Vulnerability became the norm and grace my trusted new confidant.  The juxtaposition of love vs. fear became apparent in everything I was experiencing. 

Early on, a dear friend and gifted photographer, Romy Suskin, said she would like to  document the journey.  The goal was no goal - a first for me. My main priority was I just wanted to capture the essence of where I was in the given moment. We said we would mark the major milestones -- before my surgery (bilateral mastectomy), after the 6 month chemo regime started, and then a final session once I got the "girls" in.  

Our first session was a strange mix of serenity and panic. It was the day before I was leaving for my surgery in Houston at MD Anderson. I had just returned from my cousin's wedding and it was a bittersweet send off as my entire family ushered me with well wishes, while the unspoken loss of so many family members taken from cancer hovered amongst it all.  I can remember feeling worried, confused,  frozen.  I was in uncertain territory where prognosis was not known. 

Our second session was in stark contrast. I was almost giddy.  I had begun  stripping down the layers physically and emotionally, and I was discovering an authenticity in my spirit that felt so innocent, tender, and joyful. I was awake for what felt like the first time in my life. 

Our third session is yet to be scheduled. It marks the stepping forward and I admittedly am not quite sure how to do that. 

But I know it starts with embracing that not knowing, honoring the unbelievable journey, and celebrating perhaps the biggest milestone to date - that of completion of the surgeries and treatments.  It means taking pause, checking-in, and listening.  It means forgiving myself and others when I realize that old patterns and behaviors no longer work. It means continuing to be brave and express myself even in the most vulnerable moments. It means nourishing and  taking care of myself not because of the cancer, but because I love myself and deserve the best. It means letting myself shine and celebrating the milestones of life - however monumental or miniscule. It means allowing myself and others the freedom to be who we are. It means loving and being loved.  It means surrendering to it all. 

As grateful as I am for my year with cancer, I'm even more grateful this chapter has come to a close. I could not have done it without the unbelievable support of my family, friends and co-workers.  The opportunity now exists  in being able to enjoy the gifts of this past year, but without cancer as the catalyst.   Sure there will be residual realizations, insights, moments of panicked symptomology, and follow up appointments. But for the most part, the completion is here.  I'm medically "free from evidence of disease,"  and I'm proud of who I have become in the process.  In many ways, it is fitting that my cancerversary falls on Valentine's Day, for it marks the ultimate love story of all - that with myself.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Butterflies, Boobs, and Beginnings

A year ago, around this time I remember pulling up to my office and I saw a butterfly (or maybe it was just a pretty moth) on our office porch. At the moment, it appeared dead and I thought to myself "this can't be good" given butterflies metaphorically represent transformation. But my colleague pointed out that it literally had just emerged from its cocoon (or is it a chrysalis) and so we set it on a leaf and it was on its way. That felt a little better and I could easily get behind the symbology of emerging anew. 

Within days of this, I reached out to my now mentor, teacher and friend Flint Sparks. I had heard him at a TedxAustin talk years ago and had been wanting to connect.  Given it was a new year and sensing some type of change was on the horizon for me, I reached out. The soonest he could see me was in 3 weeks.  That felt good - no rush. I was about to celebrate my annual girls weekend with my high school friends. Life was good.

Fast forward one week to February 7 and my world was forever changed.  The actual day of my diagnosis was on February 14 (Happy Valentine's Day!:-), but my annual exam was on the 7th, and after seeing the expression on my Doctor's face after feeling the lump, I knew, I just knew.  

A week later,  I remember the mammogram, the ultrasound, the biopsy, the look on the radiologist's face when I looked her straight in the eye as she was reviewing my ultrasound and asked her if I had cancer.  And with deep empathy, she looked at me and said, "I do think this is cancer." She was quick to qualify that until the biopsy came back the next day (rushed - which was another indicator), nothing was for certain.  I broke down, asked for my sister, and had that surreal moment I'm sure most people diagnosed with cancer have.

The next days/week were a blur.  Meeting with all sorts of doctors until I found my home at MD Anderson and Texas Oncology with a super star team I felt the utmost confidence in. While my treatment and surgical plan was still to be determined, that was an important piece of the puzzle for my family and I.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and I realized my appointment with Flint was on the calendar. My initial reason for outreach seemed petty at this point, but I figured I would go anyways. As he asked me what brought me there, I explained that my initial outreach was that I was sensing change was on the horizon, now I have been diagnosed with breast cancer. He stopped me right then and told me that there were a few things I should know about him. That one of his specialties is working with cancer patients and helping to cultivate their psycho spiritual experience with it.  And that is how my journey started.  The right people and circumstances showing up EXACTLY when I needed them.  

What I'm realizing is that this is how life works if we can be awake and present enough to welcome it.  Having lived in this tender bubble of awakeness this past year, I can see how my old ways of intellectualizing and problem solving kinda don't work anymore.  I'm realizing that I need to keep taking pause and feeling where I am versus my old ways of seeking approval from others. It's admittedly a little disorienting, almost like I'm rewiring. And wheras it seemed so natural and easy during my treatment phase, as the realities of life creep back in, I now realize that is a conscious choice I can make - in every moment. To be and stay awake.  

Everything is literally coming full circle for me over the next couple of weeks as I go in for my reconstruction surgery on February 6. It will be just under a year exactly.  I can feel myself growing anxious to try and distill all of the lessons learned and insights gained before the year mark hits.  I know this won't happen because life doesn't work that way. At the end of the day we are always evolving - cancer or not.  Regardless, I'm craving that full circle moment, the completion, the bookend, the check mark.  And as is the case with most endings, I realize that there are new beginnings just on the horizon. 

I suppose that similar to that butterfly I discovered a year ago, I too am emerging from the cocoon, except instead of getting my wings, I'm getting new boobs.